Turn on the TV for half an hour, and chances are you’ll receive at least two – if not a dozen – conflicting messages about food and nutrition. A talk show featuring a respected pediatrician touts the deleterious effects of giving juice to children. Immediately follows an ad for a popular brand of children’s juice containing 100 percent of their daily requirement of Vitamin C. The evening news then reports that Americans, especially children, are vitamin deficient. That’s only one of many, many examples.
If you’re confused about nutrition, you’re not alone. Fed up with the debate surrounding the nutritional value of eggs, comedian Lewis Black once passionately bellowed from the stage, “Will you make up your minds? It’s breakfast; I’ve got to eat!” However, it’s not that simple. Here’s why.
Individual Nutritional Needs
While it’s true that all human bodies need vitamins, minerals and water to function, genetics plays a big role in a person’s overall health. A person with a naturally high metabolism may be able to consume 2,400 calories a day and maintain a healthy weight with minimal effort, while another person may struggle to maintain weight on 1,900 calories a day. Someone who is prone to developing diabetes or heart disease may require a stricter diet than someone with a healthy family history. A librarian shouldn’t eat like a professional football player, and vice-versa. Women have different nutritional needs than men. It’s difficult to develop a one-size-fits-all approach to health when everyone is different, hence the conflicting information.
The Complex Body
Despite all of the intense medical research and technological progress of the last 60 years, doctors have only begun to unravel the human body’s secrets. The body is incredibly intricate, from the large organ systems that support life, to the tiny bacteria and cells that carry out thousands of essential processes. Not to mention that the body’s processes can vary according to gender, genetics, disease, environment and nutritional intake, all of which interact in complex ways. As of now, doctors are still debating what single factor has most contributed to the epidemic rise in obesity in the last 30 years.
Same Day, Different Diet
Weight loss is big business. Everyone from daytime television celebrities to fitness gurus have made millions developing and selling their own special diet plans, pills and drinks. Rarely are any two diets the same. The Atkins Diet says consumers should avoid carbs at all costs, though high-fat foods are permitted. Weight Watchers has dieters choosing foods in a point-based system, and Slim-Fast recommends drinking two meals out of three in the form of a high-protein shake. Some people claim you can lose weight eating nothing but donuts if you want, as long as calories are limited to a certain amount.
Doctors have their own opinions as well. Some promote eating fresh produce, while others say frozen vegetables contain more nutrients. Some say to cut out all junk food; others claim it can be enjoyed in moderation.
Also, the obsession over weight loss often causes an informational catch-22 as people readily exchange proper eating for rapidly shedding weight. Nutrition is about nourishing the body and promoting wellness, not squeezing into a size 2 bikini.
Misleading Food Labels and Advertising
With obesity and its related diseases now a significant health concern, many consumers are seeking healthier foods at grocery stores. Food manufacturers have responded to the demand by reducing salt, fat, and sugar content in many of their products and labeling them as healthy options. Unfortunately, these labels are often misleading. For example, an “all natural” product may contain heavily processed ingredients and traces of pesticide. And adding a few vitamins to a product that’s 50 percent sugar does not magically make it healthy.
In reality, food manufacturers don’t care about helping consumers to choose the best foods; misleading them is more profitable. A 2008 study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) found that only 11 percent of the 367 foods marketed directly to children provided good nutrition, despite many of them being labeled as healthy or nutritional.
What to do?
Consumers who want to eat right but are overwhelmed by all the conflicting information can achieve their goals by following some very simple guidelines:
- Understand your family history – if you’re prone to gaining weight, you may have to exercise more and monitor caloric intake carefully.
- Eat more color – colorful foods, like fruits and vegetables, usually have more vitamins and less fat. Beige foods are the opposite.
- Discuss dieting with your doctor – some fad diets may be unhealthy or wrong for your needs.
- Read the nutritional label on the back of food packages – don’t trust the nutritional claims on the front; check the serving size and the fat, salt and sugar content instead.
- Limit calories to recommended amounts – 2,000 calories a day is the standard, though you may need a few more or less to maintain your ideal weight.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact their physician for advice.
“Causes of Obesity.” Disease.com, 2010. Web. 11 July 2011.
Gutierrez, David. “Study Shows Misleading Health Claims on Food for Children.” NaturalNews.com. December 4, 2008. Web. 11 July 2010.